When model Herieth Paul describes her stunning hometown of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, it's almost as if she's describing a dreamland.
"It's literally the most beautiful place in the world," she says, with a huge smile. "It's so warm and the air is so crisp and it smells like — do you know the smell after it rains? … The sun rays just kiss my skin. And the ocean water is so clear; it's so blue."
But then again, so much of her life sounds like a dream. At the age of 22, she's an "It girl" who's in high demand in the fashion industry.
She travels the world for fashion shows and models for industry icons including Calvin Klein, Roberto Cavalli, and Tom Ford. She has also quickly earned comparisons to the likes of superstars Grace Jones and Naomi Campbell. Her signature hairstyle, a short afro, helps her embrace her natural beauty, rather than feeling like she's pretending to be someone else.
And that's a powerful feeling, since Herieth never wants to forget about Tanzania and the people there who helped her become the person she is today.
Herieth Paul in New York City. Image via Upworthy.
"Is this a dream? I still can't believe it," she gushes, regarding her blossoming career.
In fact, when she turned 18, Herieth accomplished one of her biggest modeling goals.
"I've always wanted to be a Maybelline girl," she says. She even remembers writing "Maybelline" on a piece of paper and putting it on the wall of her very first New York apartment before she had any other artwork.
So she could hardly believe it when her modeling agency told her the good news: Maybelline had asked her to be their spokesmodel.
But now that she's in the spotlight, Herieth wants to use her success to help other girls reach their goals.
Growing up as a shy girl in East Africa, she never expected to grace the pages of the world's magazines, but she always knew that she'd want to help lift up her community in any way she could. That's because it's not only the gorgeous scenery that makes her love where she came from — it's also the people of Tanzania, who inspire her to give back.
For example, her mother helps run a Tanzanian orphanage, Sachia Society, where Herieth volunteered as a young girl. It was an activity that helped teach her the value of compassion.
"I've learned to respect others," she explains. "Just being able to say … you come from a different upbringing but, you know, we can still get along, can still be friends."
And it was this compassion that ultimately inspired her to give back to people who don't have opportunities like the ones she had.
After all, Herieth knows she wouldn't be where she is today without a little luck and other people's helping hands. At 14, her mom signed her up to audition for a Canadian acting and modeling agency, which Herieth hoped would help her become an actress like the kids she saw on the Disney Channel.
Because she was shy, soft-spoken, and not yet fluent in English, she stumbled through her audition. Fortunately, the agency still saw her potential and gave her a chance to model instead of act.
Before that, she says, "I never thought modeling was an option."
Image via Upworthy.
That's why, throughout her entire career, she has continued to support the Tanzanian children back at Sachia Society in order to hopefully open doors for them and expand their horizons through education. She sends money from each of her paychecks to help them pay for things like electricity, food, and books.
"The amount of joy it brings the girls and the boys at the orphanage — it's better than anything you can imagine," she says. "The feeling of being able to give back to my own people in my own country just makes me feel so happy."
In addition to her philanthropic work back in Tanzania, Herieth also shows up for kids in New York City.
She helps mentor girls with the Lower East Side Girls Club, an organization that offers young women free programs in leadership, entrepreneurship, arts and sciences, and more.
"There's so much to be said about being a support system," she says.
Herieth volunteering at Lower East Side Girls Club. Image via Upworthy.
She loves the chance to ask the girls how they're doing so they know that somebody cares, and she likes encouraging them to believe in themselves just as much as she believes in them.
After all, if she hadn't believed in herself, the shy girl from Tanzania wouldn't have become the role model she is today.
Herieth believes everyone deserves to celebrate their own unique beauty.
She glows from the inside out as she discusses what it takes to believe in yourself in spite of the obstacles in front of you.
Image via Upworthy.
"Every time I feel like I have low self-esteem, I try to think, you're here for a reason and you're meant to be here," she says. And that's exactly the message she wants to pass on.
Perhaps growing up in a place that seems like a dreamland helped her realize that children's beautiful dreams can become reality.
"I see beauty everywhere," she says. "Every time I travel … I see beautiful people, but not because of how they look, but with their hearts and their beautiful minds. I feel like beauty is just the energy that you give out into the world."
For more on Herieth's work giving back to others, check out this video: